We don’t know how many math professors come from excluded racial/ethnic groups. This is a problem for everyone in this country.

If any readers do in fact know of recent, detailed statistics on faculty in the mathematical sciences who come from excluded racial/ethnic groups, please contact us at qside@qsideinstitute.org to let us know. Thus far, no one has been able to provide such information to us.

If you are not in the mathematical sciences, and even more broadly, if you are not in academia, questions about diversity in the field might seem like inside-baseball-type stuff. They are not. Diversity in mathematics matters for everyone in this country. And even more specifically, diversity of faculty in the mathematical sciences matters. To understand why, let’s put the following five facts together.

Fact #1: The U.S. has a STEM Labor shortage

In 2012, the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST) released a report called Engage to Excel: Producing One Million Additional College Graduates with Degrees in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM). The title of the report says it all: the U.S. faces a severe STEM labor shortage. I encourage you to peruse this fascinating and scary report.

Fact #2: The STEM Labor shortage is bad for our country

The PCAST report explains:

Economic projections point to a need for approximately 1 million more STEM professionals than the U.S. will produce at the current rate over the next decade if the country is to retain its historical preeminence in science and technology. Retaining more students in STEM majors is the lowest­ cost, fastest policy option to providing the STEM professionals that the nation needs for economic and societal well­being.

Fact #3: groups of People Excluded on the basis of Race/Ethicity (PEER) could play a key role in addressing the STEM labor shortage, and hence, in our national well-being

Fast forward seven years from the PCAST report. Last year, in 2019, the National Academy of Sciences’ (NAS) report Minority Serving Institutions: America’s Underutilized Resource for Strengthening the STEM Workforce stated:

A clear takeaway from the projected demographic profile of the nation is that the educational outcomes and STEM readiness of students of color will have direct implications on America’s economic growth, national security, and global prosperity. Accordingly, there is an urgent national need to develop strategies to substantially increase the postsecondary and STEM degree attainment rates of Hispanic, African American, American Indian, Alaska Native, and underrepresented Asian American students.

Fact #4: Mathematics plays a special role within STEM

While the PCAST report address a labor shortage across all STEM disciplines, it specifically calls out the key role of the mathematical sciences. In fact, the report makes five high-level recommendations, and only one of them is discipline-specific: “Launch a national experiment in postsecondary mathematics education to address the math preparation gap.” Why would the PCAST report call out the mathematical sciences? The reasons are well-explicated in The Mathematical Sciences in 2025, published by the National Academies in 2013. A key finding of this report is:

Mathematical sciences work is becoming an increasingly integral and essential component of a growing array of areas of investigation in biology, medicine, social sciences, business, advanced design, climate, finance, advanced materials, and many more. This work involves the integration of mathematics, statistics, and computation in the broadest sense and the interplay of these areas with areas of potential application. All of these activities are crucial to economic growth, national competitiveness, and national security.

FACT #5: Diversifying the U.S. postsecondary mathematics faculty would bolster the mathematics training of systemically excluded individuals.

Here, I draw on well-established results from the social sciences. Humans compare themselves to reference groups, and these comparisons play a key role in each individual’s psychological growth and self-concept. This is the so-called role model effect. One way to understand the role model effect is through the idea of possible selves as described in this seminal paper. For concreteness, let’s restrict our attention to career choices in young people. An individual creates a mental list of possible future careers. Then the individual looks at people currently working in those careers. If none of the people working in a particular career hold identities shared with the individual along axes that the individual values, then the individual’s belief in the viability of that career choice is diminished.

Putting it all together

I’ve given you five facts, supported by reports from the highest levels of science and government and by highly-cited peer reviewed research. The U.S. has a STEM labor shortage. This shortage is bad for our country. Increasing the participation of systemically excluded racial/ethnic groups in STEM would go a long way towards fixing this problem. Within STEM fields, the mathematical sciences play a key role. And finally, in order to persist in a field, students look to role models. Therefore, a diverse postsecondary mathematics faculty is important to our national wellbeing.

We seem to have no idea how many faculty from excluded racial/ethnic groups there are in the mathematical sciences.

The American Mathematical Society keeps statistics on gender at every level of the academic mathematical sciences (the situation is dire, but that’s a story for another post) and they appear to keep statistics on participation of racial/ethnic groups at the doctoral degree level. You can find statistics on participation of racial/ethnic groups in all STEM fields and at all degree levels through the National Center for Science and Engineering Statistics.

What seems to be missing is data on racial/ethnic groups within the mathematical sciences. It is possible that some of this data is captured in the work of UCLA’s Higher Education Research Institute. It is hard to say because their publicly available report doesn’t contain this information by field, and because their full data appears to be proprietary. Finally, nobody in my own borad professional network has been able to provide relevant data.

I am surely not the first person to notice that we are missing these data, but I myself have only just become aware of the lacuna. This hole in our knowledge is a serious barrier to increasing representation in STEM, moving towards justice for excluded individuals and groups, and giving our country a brighter future.

Professor, data scientist, applied mathematician, social justice researcher and activist, nonprofit leader. See www.chadtopaz.com and www.qsideinstitute.org.

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